Top 10 Most Underused Techniques in MMA
Undoubtedly one of the best aspects of MMA is the sheer variety of techniques that fighters can use during a match and this is what makes it so exciting and different from every other combat sport.
There are dozens of submissions and strikes that can end a fight and some of them have repeatedly been proven effective time and again.
However, there are several good moves that aren’t as widely used by fighters yet are still significant in their ability to cause damage or make the situation more favorable for one of the combatants.
My criterion of inclusion for each maneuver listed here was the move’s efficiency, ability to end a fight or improve position, relative effectiveness, degree of difficulty, and general practicality in a given situation.
For the more unorthodox tactics I tried to give a bit of background on the move’s history and specifications.
I also made sure to provide concrete examples of each techniques previous application in MMA so as to justify my argument for including it.
Of course, I am in no position to be telling professional fighters what they should or shouldn’t be doing in a match.
I just feel that some moves are unnecessarily overlooked in favor of flashier or battle-tested techniques and hope that perhaps a few of these abilities will be used more often in future competition.
But I have already said too much. Let us proceed to the list.
10. Standing Elbows
We all know the power that an elbow strike on the ground can generate. Yet the ability of elbow strikes to confer damage on the feet is often neglected in an MMA match where a fighter would rather swing for the fences or utilize a precision punch from the outside.
One need not look any farther than Muay Thai competitions to recognize that having elbows in one’s repertoire of moves can only increase the chance of victory, and the more varied somebody’s striking capacity is then the harder it will be to stop them.
Being unpredictable is essential to catching your opponent off guard and giving yourself a better shot at knocking him out.
Standing elbows are occasionally thrown with the intention of cutting someone. They are capable of wreaking havoc in a manner that mere punches cannot contend with.
Elbows thrown with velocity towards the head can cause significant blunt force trauma, especially since the point of impact is rigid and bony.
When delivered properly at the edge of the elbow and tip of the forearm, these types of strikes can hurt just as much if not more than a traditional punch, and at close range or in the clinch, elbows can be downright devastating since they can come across the body and don’t have to be loaded like a typical punch.
With the way fighters usually cover up, standing elbows can penetrate the guard as they impact the forehead whereas fighters tend to cover the side of the head and their cheeks when blocking as in a standard boxing guard.
The elbow can land right between the opponent’s arms, and when used in conjunction with punches, is a great way to unleash a powerful combination of strikes that leaves you’re opponent guessing as to what you’re going to do next.
Strikers of all kinds would benefit from adding standing elbows to their arsenal, and they need not remain in the domain of Muay Thai stylists.
Brock Lesnar showed the type of damage that an elbow strike could do against Randy Couture, though the former is an immensely strong man and even a glancing blow from him could cause a lot of pain.
In another example of this move's efficacy, Jason Day used several standing elbows to hurt Alan Belcher before finishing him with punches along the fence at UFC 83.
Those elbows really rocked Belcher and signaled the beginning of the end of that match and this shows that even Muay Thai strikers are susceptible to falling prey to their own specialized maneuvers.
The elbow strike is not technically difficult to learn and it is a technique that certainly wouldn't hurt to have especially if one likes to fight up close using dirty boxing in the clinch or during a standard tie-up.
Such a strike is perfect for when two fighters are backing away from each other and an elbow is thrown unexpectedly.
One does not have to throw it horizontally either, such as when Anderson Silva knocked out Tony Fryklund with a standing back elbow thrown upwards with the tip as the point of impact.
9. Armbar from Mount Position
One of the most frustrating things about watching MMA is seeing a fighter in a position to end a fight but not doing so for whatever reason. I’m sure some of you have had this same experience where you yell at the television in your best Shao Kahn impersonation, “Finish Him!”
Of course, without this possibility, dramatic comebacks would be impossible, but ending a fight when one has a great opportunity is a sign of the aptitude and killer instinct that is necessary for success at the highest level of MMA.
The mount is considered to be the second most dominant position there is, next to the back mount. In the early UFC days when a fighter got to this point the match was pretty much over.
As ground defense has gotten better and referees are less lenient to call a stoppage due to mounted punches, a greater proportion of fighters have survived after being placed in this formerly deadly situation.
The natural tendency after achieving the mount is to rain down strikes on your opponent, either with straight punches, hammerfists, or elbows.
Yet the fighter on bottom may escape or the round will come to a close without a conclusion to the match.
An armbar is usually right there waiting and many fighters either choose not to go for it or are not capable of delivering such a submission.
Without a doubt there are jiu-jitsu techniques that are more difficult to execute than a mounted armbar, and you certainly don’t need to be a brown or black belt to execute such a move.
Why do fighters sometimes not go for the armbar when their opponent’s arm is flailing in the air, begging to grabbed and hyperextended?
Well, the man on top may not want to risk losing his position. Surely, if he cannot finish the fight via strikes from the mount, and if he has been in that position for a considerable amount of time or the clock is about to run out, wouldn’t taking the risk be worth it?
The armbar from mount is really an essential maneuver since everybody will find themselves in that position eventually and knowing how to finish properly is a great asset. Even though it takes a bit of speed and precision to pull off accurately, it can definitely be learned by almost anybody who is serious about the sport.
If one is quick enough in his transition this type of armbar has a high success rate. The key is to deceive your opponent and wait for the opportune moment to commit.
A savvy fighter will bait his opponent into grabbing his arm so that he can reverse the position when the other man commits.
However, the purpose of the match is to win, and some fighters are more comfortable throwing safe punches from the mount in order to secure a technical knockout victory.
Finishing a fight has its benefits, and more than a few fights would have ended differently if the man on top had gone for an armbar instead of letting his opponent survive the mounted position.
That is why I think it is one of the more underutilized submissions in MMA.
8. Body Strikes
Punches to the body form a staple of the boxer’s arsenal, yet this tactic is very much underemployed in the MMA world.
Often, fighters are all-too eager to stand and trade with each other, throwing hooks and haymakers to the chin in an effort to score a crowd-pleasing knockout and perhaps secure a fight of the night financial bonus.
While this is an admirable endeavor, as fighters try to put on a show and pick up extra cash, body strikes are often neglected in these stand-up exchanges since it is easier to get a knockout with a strike to the chin or temple.
Though not as flashy as a wild hook or swinging haymaker, body punches and kicks have their own place in MMA and can be just as effective in bringing about a finish to the fight.
I am including all strikes to the body under this category, since kicks and knees to this area can be even more destructive than punches, and they are weapons that a boxer does not have access which makes it even more surprising that they are not used as much in MMA.
The smaller gloves used in MMA makes it harder to cover up and block punches effectively. This makes the gut are an even more attractive place to land a blow since fighters will unanimously cover their heads when the other man starts throwing a punch.
The benefits of throwing body strikes are quite obvious. They can wear down an opponent, make them tire more quickly, and really take their toll over the duration of the fight.
Mid-level kicks can knock down an opponent where some quick ground and pound will finish him off.
Mirko Cro Cop employed crushing liver kicks during his tenure in PRIDE and shows how dangerous that sort of strike can be, though the downside is that one can catch the kick and score a takedown a la Gabriel Gonzaga.
Knees to the body within the clinch can force the opponent to double over, leading to a few knees to the head.
Punches and elbows to the body while on the mat can be a very effective ground and pound tactic.
Quinton Jackson used these strikes against Chuck Liddell in their first match and forced his corner to throw in the towel, and this was against a future UFC light-heavyweight champion no less.
Punches to the liver or kidney from back mount can also force a fighter to curl and give up the choke more easily.
A fighter hurt by a body shot is easy pickings, though one has to be careful when closing in for the finish (see Scott Smith vs. Pete Sell for proof). The floating rib is a perfect target, as is the liver and even the sternum can be damaged from a powerful hit.
Strikes to the body can be all that separates two combatants in an otherwise equal match-up on the feet. Some fighters have very strong chins and are hard to knockout or knock down.
There are fighters who leave themselves wide open for a well-timed hook or kick to the gut which can take the wind right out of them, but the opponent does not use this opportunity to attack.
Fighting smart and having a good game plan are the keys to success. Often if a fighter is losing the first two rounds he does not try anything different in the third and sure enough loses the fight.
Adding more body strikes to one’s arsenal will make somebody’s striking more unpredictable and lethal. If an opponent is known for his great cardio then a few well-placed body shots will bring his energy down a notch.
Strikes to the stomach can be thrown from all angles and any range, and there have been fighters who literally dropped to a knee to deliver such a blow.
Those who neglect to protect their core in a fight are begging for trouble when they go up against an elite-level stand-up artist.
I think in the future we will see body strikes more often in MMA as fighters in general improving their striking abilities.
MMA contains a higher proportion of world-class grapplers and wrestlers than strikers, so it is only natural to see that striking in general is behind the ground game.
Body shots can prove in a fight, as for example during Franklin-Hamill match when the former wasn’t able to penetrate the guard or chin of the latter and resorted to body strikes to take him out, proving just how useful this technique can be when dealing with fighters who are good at covering up or have an outstanding chin.
7. Pulling Guard
Upon first glance one may scoff at my inclusion of this tactic, yet it is imperative for submission fighters to have a means of taking down their opponent since nearly every submission will be completed on the ground.
Many MMA combatants are adept at Freestyle wrestling and employ it as either a primary or secondary art. This background gives them a repertoire of different types of takedowns, such as single and double-leg shots.
Greco-Roman wrestlers are experts in using sweeps, trips, and throws from the clinch to take the fight to the mat.
However, other fighters had to adapt and borrowed the sprawl to counter these types of moves. And some competitors are difficult to control or get a hold of in the clinch, making it nearly impossible to take them down with a traditional trip or sweep.
Pulling guard is a technique mostly utilized by Brazilian Jiu-jitsu fighters who are either unable to take their opponent to the mat via conventional means or want to be on the ground in the bottom guard position.
Usually the man who employs this maneuver has a really dangerous guard game with a penchant for triangle chokes, triangle armbars, omoplatas, gogoplatas, sweeps from the bottom, reversals, and more.
It can be difficult to defend against such a tactic, because once somebody clinches with you they can fall back and drag you to the ground. Other fighters prefer a leaping guard pull, where they will actually jump and grab a hold of their opponent’s waist with their legs and bring them to the mat that way.
Thus there are a couple different ways of initiating the guard pull, but the intention is to bring the opponent within your guard to look for a submission or a reversal so that one can be on top without having to execute a more traditional take down.
Against fighters with a really good sprawl and clinch balance, or for grapplers with weaker wrestling skills or a lethal bottom game, pulling guard can be an excellent method for swinging the fight in your favor and moving one step closer to victory, and I think it is very much an under appreciated maneuver in the MMA world.
However, the method of pulling guard seems to be undergoing a renaissance of its own among prominent BJJ artists such as Shinya Aoki, Demian Maia and Vinny Magalhaes, and we have definitely not seen the last of this ancient yet unconventional tactic.
The hammerfist is most definitely under appreciated when it comes to the ground and pound aspect of MMA.
Fighters will often prefer to throw straight punches when inside the guard or elbows (in North America) when in side mount or half-guard.
However, using the hammerfist can be an excellent tactic for several reasons. Since it travels downward at a high velocity, it has a greater amount of gravity behind it than a punch thrown at an angle.
This increases the amount of power that a hammerfist can generate.
Secondly, this type of strike can be thrown in quick succession with both hands much faster than regular ground punches can, and so damage will accumulate rather quickly.
The hammerfist can be used from nearly any position on the ground to attack the opponent, including when one has taken his opponent’s back. It can also be aimed to rather easily bypass the opponent’s defense.
Even fighters on the bottom can throw hammerfists upwards towards this opponent, and often times this strike will be more effective than a regular punch from one’s back.
There is less padding on the side of the glove towards the palm than on the knuckles, so these punches can very much hurt sombody even though they are delivered with a different part of the fist.
Combatants who are prone to breaking their hands, such as Fedor Emelianenko, sometimes prefer using the hammerfist since it takes pressure away from having to use their knuckles on a downed opponent.
The ability to strike on the ground is one of the core skills of any MMA fighter and the hammerfist is ideally suited for such a purpose.
After a knockdown, many fighters will make the mistake of running right into an opponent’s guard and delivering straight punches from there in an effort to finish the match.
The ideal tactic in this situation would be to bypass the opponent’s guard by running to his side and deliver hammerfists from there.
Therefore this type of strike is perfect for finishing a fight when a fighter has been dropped due to the fact that it can be delivered in rapid succession before the rocked opponent can recover.
Several fighters have demonstrated the effectiveness of the hammerfist in MMA, such as Fedor Emelianenko, Murilo Rua, Checik Kongo, Takanori Gomi, Brock Lesnar, Renato Sobral, and others.
However, a lot of competitors are still unable to deal any significant damage within an opponent’s guard, and adding the hammerfist as a primary technique would help to assuage this situation.
The match between Renato Sobral and David Heath is a perfect example of how to use hammerfists in addition to standard punches to hurt the opponent from the top guard position.
Most of Fedor’s fights in PRIDE FC were also grand displays of the hammerfist’s effectiveness, and it’s only natural that one could learn a thing or two by watching the best in the sport compete.
5. Butterfly Guard
This is a type of open guard whereby the man on bottom keeps his legs in between the thighs of the other fighter and hooks the top of his feet onto the inside thighs for stability.
The butterfly guard is excellent for keeping the top man unbalanced in his posture and thus unable to execute any effective ground and pound.
It is perfect for delivering what is called an elevator sweep which is when the bottom fighter kicks his legs up from underneath the opponent and pushes the top man off of him vertically and then towards the side.
This type of sweep can reverse positions on the ground or result in both fighters back up on their feet.
The guard itself provides for many different variations and each form has its own advantages and disadvantages.
The one great aspect for the butterfly guard is that it gives the man on bottom greater leverage and the ability to escape the position via a well-timed sweep or reversal in a manner that other forms of the guard do not allow.
Too often a fighter will remain in the closed guard not really doing anything while hoping for a stand-up, but this guard is an attempt to alleviate that situation by providing a better chance to escape while minimizing punishment and giving oneself greater command of the other fighter’s posture and balance.
The butterfly guard is flexible in that it can be used as a quick transitional phase to a better position or conversely can be drawn out as a defensive stance to maintain control of the top man and negate any sort of damage.
Overhooks or underhooks are usually used in conjunction with the butterfly guard to contain the man on top.
The fight between Jeff Joslin and Josh Koscheck is a perfect example of how the butterfly guard can completely neutralize an opponent by making his position on top unstable and ineffective.
Joslin lost that match, but his performance was a tour de force of what the butterfly guard can accomplish when executed correctly.
The biggest weakness of the butterfly guard is that it can be passed quickly if one is not careful. That is why it has been traditionally employed only by those who are expert at Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
However, it definitely has its uses and if one knows how to employ the butterfly guard to its fullest extent then they can turn the tide of the match in their favor with a sweep or minimize damage in a way that is not possible with other variations of the open guard en route to seizing an opportunity to go on the offensive.
4. Uchi Mata
The Uchi mata is one of the most famous judo throws and it is capable of being used in no-gi grappling without any difficulties. It is similar to the hip toss or head-and-arm throw seen in other grappling disciplines.
It has been popularized in MMA by the Judoka Karo Parisyian and this throw has often made highlight reels out of the unfortunate opponent who suffered it.
Fighters will often struggle to take down their opponent for whatever reason, whether because they have a good sprawl or balance in the clinch or great hip strength and the like.
If a double-leg shot is not executed swiftly then the opponent will have time to react and be able to stuff it. Similarly, it can be hard to sweep or trip somebody from the clinch if they are expecting such an attempt.
The great thing about the Uchi mata is that it can be initiated as soon as two fighters enter close range if one is fast enough. Thus it can be executed swiftly and before the opponent has a chance to react.
It is also excellent for punishing over-aggressive opponents who are charging you, and then you end up using their own momentum to throw them. So it can be used as a counter-move as well.
I’m sure many of you have seen Parisyian throw opponents onto their head with this maneuver several times as ample demonstration.
In fact, when one goes up against a Judoka like Parisyian who has adapted his style to no-gi combat, one can surely expect such him to attempt several Uchi mata’s and prepare accordingly.
Yet the majority of fighters are still unable to unable to prevent high-caliber Judo practitioners from implementing this technique during a match, showing just how effective it can be even if one knows it is coming.
Judo is commonly practiced in East Asia and many Japanese fighters utilize throws such as the Uchi mata on a regular basis. This move can be performed just as easily with the gi as without it, even on a slippery opponent.
However, usage of this throw is not regulated to Judo practitioners exclusively.
Several grappling arts have a technique that is akin to the Uchi mata is some shape or form, though perhaps with slight differences in the execution.
The Uchi mata is also referred to in English as the inner thigh throw. We have seen wrestlers in MMA such as Georges St. Pierre use this type of takedown to great effect.
In the unending attempt to become more versatile and dangerous in the cage or ring, professional fighters are always looking for new ways to improve their skills and add to their repertoire of moves.
Having the ability to take down your opponent is a key skill, and the Uchi mata is one of the more novel and unorthodox ways of accomplishing this task.
It certainly cannot hurt to be able to execute such a technique, especially since it is a lot harder to defend than a traditional double-leg shot or trip from the clinch.
Thus, I think in the future we will see Judo throws more often in MMA as fighters strive to outdo their opponents and search for new methods to bring victory within their grasp and round out their skillset.
3. Rubber Guard
This is a version of the open guard where the man on bottom wraps one leg around the other fighter’s neck and grabs that foot with the opposite hand to pin his man down.
From here, the bottom combatant is able to use his free hand for strikes, submissions, or sweeps while controlling the posture of the top fighter and preventing him form doing any damage.
The rubber guard has been popularized by Brazilian Jiu-jitsu trainer and no-gi expert Eddie Bravo.
A black belt under Jean-Jacques Machado, Bravo was looking for a better way to reduce damage from the guard while maintaining an ability to stay on the offensive.
He was critical of the fact that BJJ practitioners relied excessively on hand control which can easily be broken.
Thus instead of trying to block punches or rely on meager hand control in a match he developed the rubber guard which is intended to add versatility and novelty to a BJJ fighter’s arsenal.
The rubber guard maximizes the attacking and defending capabilities of the traditional open guard by limiting the opponent’s movement while providing room for several different kinds of submissions.
The major downside to the rubber guard is that it requires considerable flexibility to pull off convincingly.
As Bravo repeatedly insinuates, BJJ already know practitioners know that proper stretching is vital and that one ought to be physically prepared if he expects to compete at the highest level of combat sports.
The rubber guard is known for initiating rather exotic maneuvers such as the gogoplata and omoplata, but it can also lead to higher-percentage maneuvers such as traditional triangle chokes, armbars, reversals and different kinds of strikes with one’s free hand like elbows and upward hammerfists.
Another reason why the rubber guard can be effective in MMA is because it was developed with Bravo’s no-gi philosophy in mind, as opposed to other types of guards that principally rely on the gi for their expediency and thus don’t translate as well into MMA.
A perfect example of the applicability and efficiency of the rubber guard is evidenced in the fight between Jason Day and Alan Belcher at UFC 83 (pictured).
Day trapped Belcher within this guard and rained down ten elbow strikes and seventeen unanswered punches. He then won on the match on the feet via TKO.
Belcher was unable to mount any sort of offense whatsoever when he was caught inside the rubber guard and sustained quite of bit of punishment which softened him up for the finish.
That match was one of the best displays of the rubber guard's efficiency in MMA and I'm sure Bravo was impressed by Day's performance.
BJ Penn is fond of using the rubber guard, and several other fighters have used it in MMA to successfully lock in gogoplatas, such as Shinya Aoki, Nick Diaz, and Brad Imes.
Though the gogoplata is admittedly tricky to pull off, and the omo plata is primarily used as a sweep, as I mentioned there are numerous techniques that the rubber guard can set-up and it can even branch out into different sub-variations which further increase its potential.
It is a highly unique modification of the open guard and in the right hands (or legs) the rubber guard can be a deadly tool.
Though it may not be for the faint at heart, chances are that in the future we will be seeing this type of guard used with greater frequency often once knowledge of this technique improves and fighters become more adept at implementing it into their ground game.
2. Anaconda Choke/Brabo/D'arce/Shaolin Choke
These are variations of the standard arm triangle or head-and-arm choke. The Anaconda is a separate move, while the Brabo (pictured), D’arce and Shaolin choke are different names for the same submission, and they are unique from the Anaconda.
Modifications of the arm triangle can be employed from the half-guard (top or bottom), guard (bottom), side mount, north-south position, referee’s position or from a front headlock on the ground.
They are versatile in their application and are especially useful in North American promotions where knee strikes to the head of a downed opponent are banned, thus leaving the way for some creativity when it comes to upper-body submissions.
These types of submissions are most successful against opponent’s who aren’t as experienced on the ground and are therefore less prepared to defend against an advanced maneuver.
Of course, top-tier grapplers can still get caught in such a choke, but they are admittedly harder to pull off than more basic techniques.
However, when such a choke is properly locked in the match is pretty much over; as opposed to a tight guillotine which still can be escaped.
The Anaconda choke made its MMA debut at the hands of Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera when he submitted Hirotaka Yokoi and Heath Herring consecutively in PRIDE FC in 2004 with it.
Rodrigo and his brother Rogerio learned the Anaconda from BJJ instructor and fellow black belt Luiz "Buscape" Firmino, a man who has competed in PRIDE FC and DREAM as a lightweight.
It was made famous stateside by Renato Sobral who used it to finish off a bloody David Heath and then refused to let go of it, leading to his eventual dismissal from the UFC.
The Anaconda is admittedly less versatile than the Brabo choke, since it can really only be performed from the front headlock position. However, with all of the takedown attempts and sprawls in MMA, such a position is quite common.
The man on top proceeds to thread his arm under the opponent’s neck and through the armpit, and grabs the bicep while locking his own arms together.
The fighter then pushes downward to create pressure and squeeze his opponent’s neck. The prosecutor will usually do a gator roll to solidify the choke en route to making his opponent tap or go unconscious.
The Brabo choke was named by prominent BJJ instructor and author Kid Peligro, and he chose it because “brabo” means aggressive or fierce in Portuguese. It is basically a reverse head-and-arm choke and was originally used with the gi.
Then Brazilian lightweight Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro started utilizing it with great success in MMA and BJJ competitions and on the West coast it became known as the Shaolin Choke.
The D’arce nomenclature became common when one of Renzo Gracie’s students, Joe D’arce, began to employ the technique liberally, though he utilized a gable grip to sink it in (a gable grip is a way to clasp your hands together when grappling).
Essentially they are all the same technique and the way to do it is by threading the choking arm under the near arm, in front of the neck, while your other arm goes overtop your opponent’s head to cinch in the lock.
Kendall Grove used the D’arce choke against Alan Belcher at UFC 69, while Renato Sobral used the Brabo to defeat Sokoudjou at Affliction: Day of Reckoning.
Due to the versatility of these submissions, the difficulty of defending against them and the rule against knees to the head of a downed opponent in North America, I think they are extremely effective and will be used more often in the near future.
The standard arm triangle is an excellent maneuver, but the more variations you can put on a submission the better your chances are of winning with it and that is why I have the Anaconda/Brabo/D’arce/Shaolin choke as the second most-underutilized technique in MMA.
1. Heel Hook
The heel hook is probably the most feared submission in the martial arts world, and rightly so. It is banned in some submission tournaments at the novice and beginner levels.
This is because the heel hook has the ability to tear knee and ankle ligaments, shatter the tibia, rupture the knee joint, and dislocate the ankle.
The reason why the heel hook is capable of such harm is because it does not rely on hyperextension like other limb submissions, and instead depends on the rapid torquing of the knee in a direction it is not suppose to go.
There is no gradual application of pressure like in an armbar or kneebar. Thus, the nerve endings in the knee aren’t pinched, and bone damage is done before any real sort of pain is felt.
It can be difficult to submit in time when a heel hook is applied properly and efficiently, because one feels that he is not in trouble and then a second later an injury can occur.
A fighter must know when to tap out lest he gets himself hurt, but accidents do happen and competitors aren’t always able to submit before any damage is done.
One problem with the heel hook though, and the major reason why it is not used as often as it could be, is the completion percentage when one goes for it, compared to other more secure submissions, and fighters are understandably hesitant to try a lower-percentage endeavor.
One might not be able to get it locked in properly or isolate his opponent;s body to prevent escape or not apply it quickly enough so that his opponent sees it coming and gets his leg out of the way.
When attempted unexpectedly, such as when a fighter suddenly falls back from the guard into a leglock position or in the middle of a scramble between the two combatants, the heel hook can be a speedy and devastating way to end a fight.
Thus, the element of surprise and the need to tap out quickly when applied means that the heel hook can end a seemingly neutral fight within a couple of seconds.
Sometimes a fighter will go for this submission early in the match, and if he misses then the fight will just end up on the feet again or the guard position will be reversed.
If somebody is en route to losing a decision, a heel hook out of nowhere can turn the tide. A properly executed heel hook will force a tap or generate severe limb damage, and oftentimes there will be consequences even if the fighter taps right away.
Ken Shamrock used this submission in his early bouts to great success, but it soon went out of fashion.
However, I think leglocks in general are making a renaissance in MMA under the auspices of fighters such as Rousimar Palhares, Manny Gamburyan, Joe Lauzon, Masakazu Imanari and others who are not afraid to try a rather unorthodox technique in order to end a fight early and decisively.
On the first episode of The Ultimate Fighter 9, a heel hook ended two fights out of eight and they both occurred during a transition on the ground where the heel hook is an opportunistic move to attempt.
Of course, these two victims may not have had the best submission defense in the world, but even the best can get caught in such a lock if they are not careful.
The heel hook can be harmful but it is legal and can be defended if one is prepared and knows what he is doing.
I think that it will be used more often because the worst that can happen is that a fighter will give up his position on top in the guard or in a scramble, but the potential of stopping the fight and ensuring a tap when done properly often makes it well worth the risk.
Therefore the heel hook’s speed, effectiveness, damage potential, and ability to force a tap and finish the fight unexpectedly are the reasons why I think it is the most underrated and underutilized technique in MMA.
Plus who can forget Ryo Chonan’s epic flying scissor heel hook against Anderson Silva in PRIDE FC, when the Japanese fighter had the current pound-for-pound prince tapping like a river dancer?
I hope that MMA fighters from all backgrounds will continue to innovate and add new moves to their arsenal.
Nearly every martial art has something constructive to offer, and the more techniques one has at his disposal the more dangerous and better he can be as a fighter.
Competitors in all sports have to give themselves the best chance of winning possible, and an athlete can never have too many skills. After all, variety is the spice of life!